by Ashley Corinne
Falling asleep in a room I don’t belong in—in a bed that’s not my own. All the melatonin in the world can’t help me slip into my dreams and away from watching the shadows of tree branches stretch across the room. It was a mistake to come here and pretend like things were going to be different. I want to sleep it all away and wake up to a day where I haven’t done anything so foolish. Maybe to a week ago, before I’d even thought about coming back to this town to rewrite my miserable past self into someone I don’t despise.
If I could get to fucking sleep at all, though, that’d be great.
I can’t stop thinking about the way they looked at me, like a ghost on their doorstep. I was a blurred memory from a past life—just a case of déjà vu.
That’s when I knew it was a mistake.
I backed away, slipping stupidly on the wet stairs. The wind was too strong to keep my umbrella in its functional position. It flapped up and pulled me down the sidewalk like Gene Kelly’s ultimate nightmare. I looked back at them, still standing in the doorway, watching me with glazed expressions. My stomach clenched with humiliation and bile burned in my throat.
I ran all the way back to the cheap motel, sweating under my soaked jacket. My hair was tangled and matted. The lady at the front desk didn’t say anything, just handed me a cup of bad coffee from the machine behind her and gave me a sympathetic smile. I must’ve looked ridiculous next to the optimistic girl that left an hour before.
“Thanks,” I whispered, unable to use my full voice. Shame was still stuck in my throat.
I sat on the scratchy bed sheets in silence for hours. I counted the cracks in the wallpaper and then the tiles on the ceiling. Then I stared so long at the dresser my imagination drew pictures in the knots in the wood. The coffee went cold in my hands, untouched. I couldn’t even bring myself to peel off my wet clothes until the sun set and darkness fell over the room.
I can’t unsee their faces. When I close my eyes, they’re imprinted on the backs of my eyelids. The two of them, standing in the doorway, separated from me by no more than a few feet—and years of ignored phone calls and torn up letters and rejection.
So instead of sleeping, I watch the shadows over my window. People passing by, stumbling drunk over nothing, talk-whispering to companions and blissfully unaware of anything happening behind the closed doors they pass. A bird taking shelter on the handrail, singing a soft lullaby to lighten the stormy weather. It’s joined by a companion, and they finish the melody before flying away.
For a while, the tree branches thrash in the sharp wind, banging against each other and the iron railings. Now the rain is just mist, and they wave gently over the curtains. They’re trying to speak to me—maybe to say things will be okay.
My phone buzzes on the bed behind me, but I don’t want to look away from the window. I don’t want to miss anything the trees want to say.
Without moving my gaze, I feel around for the phone to see who could possibly be trying to reach me at this hour. The screen is bright in my eyes.
Maybe the trees were right.
Ashley Corinne is is a writer based in Los Angeles, California. Since graduating from Cal Poly with an English Degree in 2018, she’s been working in Home Entertainment at Warner Bros Studios. She loves writing, film, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. She’s currently working on a Young Adult spy novel that she hopes to get published. You can find her ramblings about books, film/TV, and music at ashleycorinne.com.